There have been many opinions about Indian secularism and constitution being shattered because of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 passed by both houses of the parliament — a bill which will ease the hurdles coming in the way of refugees of six religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism — of three countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — to attain the Indian citizenship. Already, the bill has been facing strong criticism from the opposition parties like Congress, CPM, Trinamool Congress, NCP, CPI, Samajwadi Party, BSP, AAP, RJD etc and from the so-called liberals and intellectuals, mostly Leftists. Apart from that, the bill has been facing stringent protests in Assam and Tripura — where already Army battalions and paramilitary forces have been deployed to bring the restive situation under control.

The first thing needed to be cleared is that whole of the north-east is not protesting against the bill — as it completely leaves out Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland barring Dimapur. Also, the areas coming under Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution are kept out of the ambit of it — leaving out large parts of both Tripura and Meghalaya. There are some worries among the people of these completely excluded states but there have been no violent objections. The protests are being organised mainly in Assam, Tripura and Shillong in Meghalaya. However, the twist here is that unlike the “secular liberals” and opposition parties of the country, these protestors are fighting to keep their states completely out of the bill — instead of partial exclusions — and are vocal supporters of NRC wanting eviction of illegal Bangladeshis.

As far as the bill is concerned, it is aimed to give justice to the refugees — the immigrants who are forced to abandon their homeland facing persecution due to religious, ethnic or political reasons. This bill deals with cases of religious persecution. There have been many arguments going around that the bill is unconstitutional and divisive in nature — with some political leaders even making fearful prophecies in the Indian parliament that it will create another partition like 1947 with Mohammad Ali Jinnah (the ardent proponent of the communal Two-Nation Theory) emerging victorious over Mahatma Gandhi.

No doubt, that the Article 14 of the constitution deals with equality — which also can be based on a reasonable classification. The six religions that the bill mentions are the religious minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — which are constitutionally declared Islamic countries. That makes a set of group of people based on reasonable classification as permitted by the article itself. Plus, nowhere does the bill harm any interests of Indian Muslims. There are also arguments that in the three listed countries, there have been persecutions of communities like Shias and Ahmadis, particularly in Pakistan. However, these persecutions are based on political or sectarian reasons— as both the communities regard Allah as the true God just like other Muslims, including the dominant Sunnis. That clearly makes them the followers of Islam — the only state religion of these three countries. And the bill is about the religious minorities of these countries — that’s why Shias and Ahmadis aren’t included.

In the case of the exclusion of Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, who presently are concentrated in refugee camps of Bangladesh, the argument of home minister Amit Shah citing their penetration into India via Bangladesh as the reason doesn’t stand strong. Significantly, there have been reports of strong radicalisation within the community with even Pakistan’s ISI trying to recruit them as terrorists. Not to forget the massacre of about 100 minority Rohingya Hindus of Rakhine province by the Rohingya militants of Myanmar in 2017 for their faith — which was covered by the BBC, unlike most of the mainstream Indian media. It would have been better had Amit Shah cited the security threat in the same way as Islamic Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina — who regards the Rohingya Muslim refugees as a threat to her country and the region.

On the other hand, the refugees of Sri Lankan Tamils that includes Hindus and Muslims, are the victims of ethnic and political persecutions — not religious oppressions. Importantly, they have been provided Indian citizenship on various occasions. Not only that, Indian citizenship have been given at different times — including refugees of Uganda or that of Bangladesh.

The major criticism that the bill is anti-Muslim creating enough fear among the Muslims is not based on facts because neither does the bill talk about Muslims nor does it remove the present refugee law that deals with granting Indian citizenship to any person, including Muslims, based on legal documents. Through this law, in 2015, famous Pakistani singer Adnan Sami, a Muslim, was granted Indian citizenship. This negate the fearful environment created by a section of intellectuals, civil society, journalists and political leaders that this bill is “the initialization of turning Muslims into second class citizens” — as it doesn’t snatch away any rights of Indian Muslims provided by the constitution.

And those who are saying that migration from these countries is mainly due to economic reasons should look at the innumerable reports that provide lot of evidences of how religious minorities are being forced to accept Islam to avoid oppression in these countries — utlimately compelling them to abandon their homelands. The population of religious minorities in Afghanistan presently is hardly 1% whereas in Pakistan it is only 3-4%. Obviously, Bangladesh, former East Pakistan where minorities especially Hindus were crushed to death in 1971 by the Pakistani Army, with 10% religious minorities is at least better than Pakistan and Afghanistan. But, there have been occasional reports of persecutions in various parts of the country — although under the present Sheikh Hasina regime there have been some minor improvements.

It is not that the bill invites anyone to come to India from these countries — it is only for those who already have entered India on or before December 31, 2014 and have been staying here for continuous six years. There have been many such refugees living for years within the country without the Indian citizenship, including the Dalit Matua community of West Bengal. This bill gives justice to these refugees by addressing their pain of not belonging to any country which only creates more hurdles in their lives as they can’t even afford any government jobs. Saying that this is not the proper time for the bill, only amounts to rubbing salt to the wounds of these ill-fated nationless people — who are scared to reveal openly their identities fearing punishable actions from the Indian law, which still regard them as illegal immigrants. Actually, by easing the hurdles of the refugees of six religions in obtaining Indian citizenship who chose it as their option, India is only continuing the ancient mantra of tolerance and justice — that in no sense violates the spirit of the Indian constitution but only enshrines it by providing a legal identity to the nationless refugees.

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